State officials said this week that the alarming increase of fentanyl-related fatalities in Montana that occurred in 2020 does not appear to be slowing down.

The Montana Department of Justice’s State Crime Lab reported 41 fentanyl-related deaths in 2020, up from 19 in 2019. Through May 2021, there have already been 22 total confirmed fentanyl-related fatalities, including 11 statewide in April alone.

Montana Department of Criminal Investigations Chief Bryan Lockerby told KGVO News that he has never seen such a dangerous turn in drug use in Montana.

“In my 40 year career I've never seen something this alarming, and in particular the fact that fentanyl is really starting to creep into our state and it's already hit our nation,” said Lockerby. “Just to provide a little bit of background, fentanyl is most likely sourced out of China. It's in a powder form. It's extremely potent, in fact, 100 times more potent than oxycodone would be. Then it is redistributed from Mexico and sometimes Canada, into the United States.”

Lockerby explained how Fentanyl became the drug of choice for the cartels, after heroin and cocaine became too easy to interdict.

“Fentanyl kind of became the path of least resistance for the cartels and the black market,” he said. “And it's a much more powerful substitute, as I said, and we're starting to see an alarming increase of fentanyl related events. Not only toxicology reports, but in fatalities and overdoses in our state and that's why we're raising the alarm.”

From a medical perspective, Alyssa Johnson, Trauma System Manager for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, said Fentanyl is a legal opioid drug that is being turned into a fatal street drug.

“We've definitely been seeing an increase of opioid overdoses, that is fentanyl related overdoses,” said Johnson. “Fentanyl is a medication that we actually do give in the hospital for appropriate pain control at prescribed doses by a physician. And it's when it gets out into the illicit market and is being used on the streets, at doses that are unknown, then it becomes concerning.”

Johnson said the anti-opioid treatment Naloxone is being used more frequently to treat Fentanyl overdoses.

“Then we would have to give Naloxone which is medication that we can reverse an opioid overdose with, and EMS has been giving that and we've been seeing an increase in the number of doses that we've had to get to give throughout 2020 and 2021,” she said.

The 11 deaths in April occurred in Missoula, Bozeman, Cascade, Yellowstone, Butte-Silver Bow and Flathead.


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